Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole came to Capitol Hill Friday afternoon to hear concerns from the local business and nightlife community about the annual spike in street crime around Pike/Pine — and to announce that SPD is putting increased resources on the streets of the neighborhood beginning Friday night. The announcements ranged from short terms fixes to long terms plans and set the groundwork for what could be significant changes in the way Central Seattle is policed.
“People have told me the Seattle way is to come up with a strategy and talk about it for a few years,” Chief O’Toole said. “I want to get into action.”
At Friday’s meeting, O’Toole announced that SPD gang unit personnel will be active in Pike/Pine and around Cal Anderson beginning Friday night to help root out reported issues with gangs of young males preying upon patrons and staff of local nightlife establishments in the overnight hours around Capitol Hill. CHS has reported that there were more reported Capitol Hill robberies in August than any other month in SPD’s records as. Injuries have been mostly limited to scratches and bruises but one victim was nearly killed early in the month when he was grazed by a gunshot.
The SPD commanders present said Capitol Hill’s problems with things like homelessness and gang-driven street crime aren’t happening only on this side of I-5.
“A lot of these things are going on downtown,” Assistant Chief Nick Metz told the crowd of dozens of business representatives and owners assembled at the 12th and Pine East Precinct headquarters.
That shared set of public safety issues might play into greater changes being discussed by SPD. According to a department spokesperson, SPD is again looking at adjusting the boundaries for its precincts. Capitol Hill is part of an East Precinct patrol and staffing area that covers everything between I-5 and Lake Washington and from Montlake to I-90. Redrawing the West and East Precincts could allow SPD to better staff and better police the kinds of crimes and public safety issues that seem to be on the rise in the neighborhood’s core entertainment and nightlife areas.
2014 Jan to Aug Capitol Hill Violent Crime Heat Map
Regardless of the boundaries, staffing its precincts remains a challenge for SPD. An East Precinct officer who asked not to be identified told CHS in that a grand total of 12 officers were available to patrol the entirety of the East Precinct on an August Friday night. A department spokesperson said that night of a dozen officers on patrol in East Precinct isn’t far from a typical deployment. The spokesperson estimated around 15 officers are on duty at any one time in the area.
At Friday’s meeting, O’Toole and SPD brass including East Precinct commander Capt. Pierre Davis said the concerned business owners would begin seeing more SPD officers on the streets immediately — including more officers on foot patrol, not more officers sitting in police cruisers. SPD brass also said that the gang units, while not working plain clothes, do “work pretty discretely,” possibly answering calls by some for stings in the area to attempt to snare would-be muggers.
The situation in Pike/Pine came to a head following an alleged assault last Friday inside 10th Ave’s Lost Lake owned by Jason Lajeunesse and Dave Meinert. Police say they found less than 0.2 grams of meth on the 25-year-old taken into custody in that incident and he was booked into county jail for investigation of drug possession but not, apparently, for the reported assault. He has yet to be charged with a crime in the case and was released from jail.
Some attendees at Friday’s meeting said this kind of response from police and prosecutors is why they don’t bother to report every crime to 911.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has responded to the calls from business owners and the Chamber of Commerce with a pledge of a new “community policing” plan to be unveiled by Capt. Davis “soon. One source for the community plan, officials have said, will be the monthly East Precinct Advisory Committee meetings. Here are recent CHS community posts from the group about its meetings which tend to focus on greater East Precinct issues beyond the Pike/Pine entertainment core.
It should also be noted that it was during a round of “community policing” updates that the last round of precinct changes came about.
The public safety situation currently playing out in Pike/Pine includes other echoes of the past. In 2013, a similar spate of street crime came to an end with the end of summer and a handful of arrests — including three men busted for a string of summer 2013 robberies near Cal Anderson. Najib Aden, 21 at the time, eventually pleaded guilty and was sentenced this April to four years in jail. Hassan Abdirizak, 19 that summer, was hit with a five and a half year sentence. Accomplice Abdulkadir Ahmed, the oldest of the bunch at 22 that July, also pleaded guilty and is serving a five and a half year sentence.
There have been a few key arrests this summer, too, police say, including the suspect busted after this August Cal Anderson robbery and shooting. A teen allegedly attempting to flee from police in the hold-up was caught with a phone and wallet belonging to the victim. Charged with first degree robbery, the suspect turned 18 this week.
Like that Cal Anderson shooting suspect, many of the suspects in the Pike/Pine muggings and robberies appear to be minors. Last summer, the troubles with small groups of young males faded away with the summer months. While the announced 2014 emphasis patrols and injection of the SPD gang detectives into the situation will be welcomed, the moves may come too late as another summer crime wave seems to have, once again, mostly passed through the neighborhood.
Still, there are larger scale public safety issues at play in the neighborhood that SPD’s longer term changes could also address. Several business representatives at the meeting spoke of concerns about LGBTQ and sexual harassment becoming a plague on the area.
Meanwhile, a community effort to address LGBTQ violence appears to be mired in the challenges of forming a volunteer public safety force. Out Watch organizers say they have had difficulty getting enough volunteers to patrol Pike/Pine. “I have turned Out Watch over to the Guardian Angels, a block watch group with national presence,” business owner and organizer Jennifer Dietrich said in a recent Facebook update. “They are having the exact same problem getting volunteers.”
O’Toole said that better sensitivity to LGBTQ crime issues and reluctance to report crime by members of LGBTQ community may require more SPD training. The chief also said she wants the department to be more data driven and more responsive to “real time” information.
A dedicated night captain has also been assigned to oversee the increased patrols in the area, O’Toole said.
Simpler solutions will also be in play.
Cal Anderson will see more SPD presence including the department’s horse-powered mounted unit.
“Sometimes our cars and uniforms don’t lend themselves to being seen,” Assistant Chief Metz said. You might soon see East Precinct cops sporting safety yellow vests or even more exciting visual updates for the local police force.